C4 goes undercover to lift lid on unreported West Papua conflict

A Channel 4 journalist has gained exclusive access to the island of West Papua, despite a ban by the government on journalists freely accessing the territory.

Evan Williams uncovered rare documentation of a bloody conflict between islanders and the Indonesian government in the documentary, West Papua: Rainforest Warriors, to be broadcast next week as part of the Unreported World series.

Williams and director Siobhan Sinnerton filmed clandestinely, working undercover, and met tribal warriors who claim that thousands of islanders have been killed in a campaign that could potentially wipe out their ethnic group.

Williams told Press Gazette: "We wanted to investigate the use of violence against anybody who stands up and asks for more rights, more autonomy or a better deal. The fact that it is so spectacular, so isolated and difficult to get to made it very appealing to get under the wire from the official Indonesian side."

The Indonesian government has a stated policy of not wanting foreign journalists to go into Papua as they say they could be a vehicle for pro- independence sentiments. On the rare occasions that journalists are given access, there is a lengthy wait for permits and they are very closely watched and scrutinised at all times.

Williams and Sinnerton entered the island as tourists using an annual festival on the island as a cover for the trip. He said: "We played the tourist most of the time to travel around the countryside and to meet people — we had pre-arranged individuals that we wanted to meet who had personal testimony of loss and abuse. We went and saw them as much as we could on the side."

West Papua, home to the world's biggest copper and gold mine, was annexed to Indonesia in 1969. Since then, thousands of Indonesians, who control most of the commerce, have received subsidies to settle on the island, resulting in tension and conflict between the two groups.

In one village, buried deep in ancient forests, the journalists met inhabitants crying and wearing mud as a sign of mourning for children who had allegedly been killed by the security forces. Some mothers were so heartbroken that they had mutilated themselves by cutting off their own fingers.

Williams said that the programme could have two immediate impacts. "It could make the government crack down on anyone who was working with us and also possibly anybody who is pro-independence," he said.

"However, in an era of greater transparency and pro-democratic leaning inside the Indonesian government, it could also help lead to pressure on the military not to use violence as arbitrarily as they have in the past."

Unreported World — West Papua: Rainforest Warriors will be screened on Channel 4 on 20 October at 7.35pm.

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